This week, we sat down with three Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) founders and CEOs to hear their perspectives on the importance of entrepreneurship in the Asian community, especially as they face increasing obstacles.
Howard Cho, a Senior Software Engineer at Attentive and small business owner himself, joined three leaders of AAPI-owned businesses—Amy Chiu, Co-Founder and CEO of Dear Brightly; Danny Taing, Founder and CEO of Bokksu; and Julia Xu, Founder and CEO of Multitasky—to discuss building and leading their businesses, overcoming imposter syndrome, and learning from failure. Here are some highlights from their conversation.
On leaving the corporate world to start their businesses
Each of the founders started their companies as answers to personal challenges. After Multitasky Founder Julia Xu left her corporate position to launch an independent consulting firm, she was looking for stylish, functional, and budget-friendly home office items. But all she could find were overpriced and non-functional pieces designed primarily for a male-dominated home office industry. “That’s when I discovered the potential for curating products for female go-getters, like myself or entrepreneur freelancers, to create their dream home office,” said Xu.
Dear Brightly’s Co-Founder and CEO Amy Chiu was only one of two women software engineers at her previous company. She and her coworker gravitated toward each other to discuss their lives and skincare. Their skincare conversations quickly progressed from simple tips to research into a successful skincare company. The two women loved retinol but had trouble getting prescriptions for effective products. “In this country, there are 34,000 Americans to just one dermatologist,” said Chiu. “Our mission for Dear Brightly is to close the gap between dermatologists and everyday people.”
Danny Taing, the Founder and CEO of Bokksu, fell in love with regional food and snacks during his time living in Tokyo. When he returned to the US, he experienced reverse culture shock. “I realized that Americans view Asia as very one-dimensional—like geishas and Pokemon are the only things from Japan,” said Taing. His experiences abroad taught him about the deep family history, craftsmanship, and obsession over the quality of food in Japan.
I started Bokksu to help bridge cultures through food because it’s one of the best ways to get people to approach something new.
- Danny Taing, Founder & CEO of Bokksu
On battling imposter syndrome
Chiu, Taing, and Xu admitted that they all deal with imposter syndrome—a feeling of doubt and fraud that usually impacts high-achieving people who struggle to accept their accomplishments.
Whether or not you’re a CEO, Chiu believes that most people struggle with imposter syndrome. She views hers as a scale, where some days are better than others. She believes in learning how to cope with feelings of doubt and transforming them into something positive. Rather than yielding to her harshest critic—herself—she’s learned to cope through gentle exercise, a nutritious diet, and daily meditation.
Everyone has a spectrum. One day, your inner critic can be loud. Another day, it’s a soft voice that's saying you're not good enough. I've come to terms with the fact that it will probably always be there. I just needed to figure out ways to cope with it. I don't think this is something that only affects founders—everyone has to work on this in some form or another.
- Amy Chiu, Co-Founder and CEO of Dear Brightly
Because Xu didn’t speak English confidently when she arrived in the US, she was timid when raising her hand or speaking up in her classes. She took baby steps by forcing herself to make casual conversation with those around her. These conversations eventually blossomed into advocating for herself when she joined the corporate world. Now, Xu combats her feelings of inadequacy by pushing herself out of her comfort zone—sometimes just embracing a “fake it until you make it” attitude.
You're always pitching yourself. No matter where you're at in your career path, you're always going to feel imposter syndrome. As a minority, sometimes we feel like we're outsiders. I think the solution is to ignore it with thick skin. Don't even think about it—just think that you are the same as everyone around you and act as if you're the same—and then one day you're going to start feeling ok.
- Julia Xu, Founder and CEO of Multitasky
On what they learned from failure
In the early stages of growing Bokksu, Taing discovered that hiring the right people for the company’s long-term health can be difficult. As he scaled the company, Taing realized an employee he hired at an early stage was no longer the right fit. Out of a desire to honor their relationship, he delayed laying off this person—which fostered negative feelings on both sides. Though laying someone off is still a challenge, Taing learned that it’s to everyone’s benefit to cut ties when there’s no longer a mutual fit.
In Asian culture, there’s a huge emphasis on the celebration of success. There’s a similar—if not greater—emphasis on the fear of failure. Failure was a powerful motivator in Xu’s desire to move faster than she knew how. In the early days of Multitasky, she underestimated the amount of inventory and team power needed to package and ship her products during the holiday season. She pushed through because she felt that speed was vital, but she got burned out. Learning from this experience, she found the right balance of having a foundational knowledge base and taking a risky dive into uncharted territory. “Don’t try to run before you know how to crawl,” advised Xu.
To hear directly from Chiu, Taing, and Xu—and how they respond to Asian stereotypes and microaggressions—watch the full panel here.